Brandon McReynolds’ early start to the 2008 season on the UARA-Stars Late Model Stock Car tour played out much the same as February 2nd did for Phil Connors, Bill Murray’s character in “Groundhog Day.” Try as he might for it to end up otherwise, day after day, Connors continually lived out the same day over and over again.
McReynolds felt that pain all too well in 2009. For the first few races of the season, he and his McReynolds Incordporated #28 Dodge team lived each day at the race track to see something different happen, but engine problems doomed them a total of four times already this year. Whether it was in practice, qualifying or the race, McReynolds and his team repeated the same scenario – start off well and end with a blown engine. It was a pattern that kept on repeating over and over again.
Then, a switch to another engine builder before last week’s Tri-County Motor Speedway event led to a second-place finish behind veteran Jamey Caudill. After that race, McReynolds was relieved – even though he didn’t win – that the engine woes were in the rear-view mirror and maybe, just maybe, it was no longer that evil Groundhog Day anymore.
On Saturday night at South Carolina’s Dillon Motor Speedway, however, McReynolds had fully begun starting a new day for his racing efforts. His engine roared throughout the race, leading the final 115 laps with Caudill on his rear bumper down the stretch, and survived a slap of the wall coming to the white flag to earn his second-career UARA victory.
In victory lane, McReynolds couldn’t help but think that he had come full-circle.
“I think this is defintely a sign this #28 team is back,” said McReynolds. “This is a great way to come back after all those blown engines. But man, God was with me tonight. He is every night. I have to thank my parents for spending all that money on me.”
It almost wasn’t engine problems that doomed McReynolds, but a hard whack of the frontstretch wall as he came to accept the white flag. McReynolds, who had been fighting a loose racecar down the stretch, had Caudill and a hard-charging Richard Boswell II following right in his tire tracks, so he had either two choices – bounce off the wall or to lose the lead.
“I knew I was going to hit the wall. It was just one of those deals where if I let off the gas, he was going to get the position on me. I rode up the wall, which kind of hurt a little bit, but it was fun and it made it interesting for these people. It was an awesome race.”
Caudill got the best of McReynolds one week earlier, as the veteran scored UARA win number-12 of his career by patiently waiting as McReynolds and Paddy Rodenbeck raced hard for the lead for the second half of the race at Tri-County. Caudill rocketed by with just a few laps to go, schooling the two young racers and teaching the Dillon winner a lesson he wasn’t going to forget Saturday night as Caudill rode right on his bumper in the final laps.
“Jamey Caudill is the man. He could’ve dumped me any time there. He’s just a class act. It’s just a priviledge to race against these guys.”
“We were just bad tight in the center,” said Caudill. “He was loose off, but he was rolling the center better than we could. I just couldn’t get back to the gas. I thought we almost got him there with one to go when he got into the wall pretty good, but he drove a heck of a race. Hats off to him and Boswell ran us hard. It was good, hard racing there at the end. We just came up a little short.”
While McReynolds had his eyes in his mirror looking back at Caudill in the closing laps, Caudill had a mirror full of Richard Boswell to contend with while trying to best McReynolds at the same time.
“I didn’t have no choice but to gain on (McReynolds),” added Caudill. “I had to go or give up second. Richard was coming on real hard there at the end, but at the same time all we could do was protect the bottom and try to hang on to second.”
Caudill eventually held on to second with Boswell in third, but third was not quite what the young Boswell was looking for.
“Last week we ran second and probably didn’t have a second-place car, but this week we ran third and there at the end I thought we had a little bit better than a third-place car. You’ll have that in racing, though. I’m tickled to death with this new (Leavitt Chassis) car, really. We haven’t had any problems with it yet. We’ll get a couple more bugs worked out and I think then we’ll be up there where Brandon is.”
For much of the season so far in 2009, not many people would want to be where Brandon McReynolds was. Now, McReynolds is in a good place and hopes it gets even better.
“Obviously a win is the best you can get, but I kind of wore it out there a little bit at the beginning. We need to come down here with a little something better next time, but I’m pretty happy with what we had.”
TOUGH LUCK PADDY
Paddy Rodenbeck has been arguably the hottest driver at the start of the 2009 UARA-Stars season. The recent high school graduate in his sophomore UARA season scored his first-ever series victory earlier this year at Concord Speedway (NC) and had finished in the top-five in three of the first four races to earn the point lead going into Dillon.
But, despite the hot start, Rodenbeck couldn’t avoid trouble early on in the Wallace Industrial 150. Rodenbeck found himself turned around in turn-four on lap 29, causing several other cars to pile into the #81 machine. After lengthy repairs, Rodenbeck returned to the track, but the front-end damage proved too severe to finish the race, as Rodenbeck was credited with a 20th-place run.
“We were just kind of riding around, trying to save the car for the end,” said Rodenbeck. “We were only 29 laps into it and I guess the 92 (Matthew Godley) wanted the position just a little bit more than me. I mean, he just drove it down in there, got sideways and spun us out.
We weren’t really a contender today for the win. We were just trying to make a top-five run and try to finish the race up front to get some points.”
LOW-BUCK CAMPBELL SHINES
While it’s no surprise to see guys like McReynolds, Caudill and Boswell in the top-five in a UARA event, seeing Garrett Campbell’s name there as well may be a bit of a surprise to Late Model Stock Car fans. But, for the last two weeks, the admittedly underfunded team has strung together back-to-back top-five runs using a patient strategy to flex some muscle.
Saturday night at Dillon, Campbell may not have had as strong of a car as he had in his fourth-place run last time out at Tri-County, but the strong finish was one that the #12 bunch will certainly take considering the circumstances.
“It’s definitely pumping us up to be running so well, but the car was terrible,” said Campbell. “It definitely wasn’t a top-five car, but I did what I could and drove it as hard as I could the last couple laps.”
“These guys work hard all week and they come to my house (to work on the car). We do it all for free and we’re a low-budget team. I’m glad to be in the top-five with all the rest of these good guys.”
KELLY FINDING A GROOVE
A week’s time made a ton of difference in the handling of Owen Kelly’s racecar. Kelly didn’t have a stellar run last time out at Tri-County, racing around mid-pack and finishing 13th.
Saturday at Dillon, however, Kelly was one of the quicker cars throughout the 150-lap feature, spending much of the night in the top-10 and fighting for a top-five finish. At the fall of the checkers, Kelly was fourth, which put a smile on his face post-race considering the door-banging and wild action that was occuring around him all night long.
“We got into a few wars there,” said Kelly. “We were good for 50 laps, but then it went away. We still have a lot of work to do. We have improved a lot on last week. We didn’t have the right to be out there last week; we’re a lot better than that. We got into a few tangles out there, but the car’s pretty straight so we’re happy for that.”
Dillon Motor Speedway, with all its bumps and tricky corners, is a track that’s tough on even the most seasoned veterans of the short track wars, let alone a racer who is only two years out of road racing in his native Austrailia. Still, Kelly was able to survive a wild race at Dillon for a fourth-place finish.
“I think it would’ve been better if we could’ve hung on to those front couple of guys up there. But I had never seen this place until this morning, so all that considered, you can’t be too disappointed with a fourth. We got a good bag of points and a couple of guys in front of us didn’t finish, so things are looking alright there.”
POOLE PUTS ON A SHOW
Some races, the biggest mover and shaker doesn’t get to finish near the front of the field. Sometimes, they don’t get to finish the race at all. Such was the case Saturday night for Brennan Poole.
Poole started on the outside pole and got a jump on polesitter Jamey Caudill into turn one, but UARA officials saw Poole’s jump as a little too much of an advantage. Poole was black flagged and made a drive-through of pit road to serve the penalty, coming off pit road just ahead of Caudill, never having lost a lap. From there, Poole held off the leaders just long enough to catch a caution and stayed on the lead lap. Poole marched all the way back into the top-five late in the race, but an engine malfunction de-railed his comeback. Poole finished 17th.